There are some interesting clashes in the Premier League this weekend, a rampant Chelsea side is to visit a shell-shocked Wigan and the surprise package Blackpool visit the Gunners looking to ‘do a Hull’ and pull of another major upset, this time at the Emirates. Yet one contest shines out from the others as being a true battle of wills, a David v Goliath type encounter, except they’re both Goliath, a real clash of the Titans. In one corner is a true footballing colossus, winning everything and anything over a glorious period unsurpassed in the modern era, in the other a giant, an integral part of the British game that has touched every fan at least once over the years. I’m not talking about West Brom versus Sunderland- although the similarities are obvious, no this match is even greater -it is of course, the big showdown between Sir Alex Ferguson and the BBC.
The past few years on Match of the Day have been noticeable for two things, Gary Lineker has slowly but surely gotten a little bit less inoffensive -okay I know that means more offensive but it just didn’t seem the right way to describe his grating smugness- and the post match interview of either Carlos Quieroz and now Mickey Phelan have rivalled only Alan Shearer’s analysis in terms of inducing boredom.
Ever since the BBC’s Panorama programme dared to suggest that Fergie’s son Jason may be involved in underhand dealings as a football agent, the United manager has refused to even entertain the idea of speaking to them. Not even Henry Kissinger and Kofi Annan combined could muster enough diplomacy to tempt Fergie to end his feud.
Fergie has said of his ongoing quarrel with ‘Aunty’ :
“The BBC is the kind of company that never apologise, and they never will apologise.
“They did a story about my son that was a whole lot of nonsense. It was all made-up stuff, brown paper bags and that kind of carry-on. It was a horrible attack on my son’s honour and he should never have been accused of that.
“But it is such a huge organisation that they will never apologise. They don’t even care if you sue them or whatever, because they are so huge and have insurance. They carry on regardless and it’s breathtaking.”
Now unless the entire BBC boardroom get down on their knees and beg Fergie for forgiveness while simultaneously singing ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’ by Elton John, then is seems unlikely the somewhat stubborn Scot will back down. After all, Fergie’s a staunch socialist from Govan who in the past has taken on every one from almost every single opposition manager to even the owner of United – not the Glazers unfortunately but previous one John Magnier – apparently over the matter of horse semen. The fact is Fergie is famous for not backing down, he runs Manchester United like no other manager in a top European side, almost without having to answer to anyone, his success and the longevity of it have afforded him an unparalleled status within the club not seen since the days of Sir Matt Busby over forty years ago.
The BBC seemed to be gaining the upper hand in one of the longest feuds the corporation has ever had with any leading football manager, by way of the Premier League introducing a new rule whereby each manager will have to attend a post match press conference and speak to all members of the press, including the BBC. Fortunately that idea is not going to be implemented until next season, the reason I say fortunately is because I believe it would be a recipe for disaster forcing Fergie into anything. Can you imagine the monosyllabic answers he’d grudgingly give if he was forced to.
MOTD Interviewer: “Sir Alex you’ve just seen your side beat Liverpool at Anfield with six goals from Gary Neville, how does it feel?”
SAF: Long pause………..“good.“ Forcing Fergie to give interviews would not be conducive to gaining interesting responses or an insight into what he’s thinking, it would basically make cr*p telly which defies the entire point. The best solution to the entire stalemate would of course be for Fergie to put his anger aside and try and forgive the BBC and move on, but that is easier said than done as the manager obviously feels very passionate about what he saw as an erroneous and damaging accusation regarding his son’s integrity.
There has been a few suggestions though that Fergie is actually thawing slightly towards the BBC, call it getting soft in his old age, or just fed up of only speaking to MUTV and Sky after the more successful matches but there have been whispers that he may agree to an interview with MOTD very soon.
David Gill has, again only allegedly, been in secret talks with the Beeb to try and see if some sort of reconciliation can be reached. Quite what these talks involve is anyone’s guess, perhaps its an offer for Fergie to appear as a host on Have I got News for You in exchange for his compliance.
I do understand Fergie’s grievance, after all it can’t be nice seeing your son accused of illegal activity by the same corporation your expected to do interviews with every week, but isn’t it now time to finally put it all behind him?
Fergie’s proved his point, since 2004 when he first stopped giving them interviews he’s won three titles and the BBC has not been able to speak to him about any of them, nor the games that were involved. Listening to Mickey Phelan almost repeat the question put to him as an answer is as pointless as it is tedious. No disrespect to Phelan who’s done a great job as both coach and assistant manager at United, but do we really want to hear from Joe Biden when Barack Obama is in the next room?
Fergie says he wants the BBC to apologise, he said:
“The thing with the BBC is they never say they are sorry. … just say sorry, they were wrong. That’s all they have to do and I told them that. Sometimes even the BBC has to be big enough to do that. I forgive easily. I don’t hold grudges at all.
“What I’m doing with the BBC isn’t a grudge, it’s a stance. There’s nothing wrong with saying you are wrong about something – it’s a quality.”
The problem is for the BBC to say sorry may mean some from of admission of wrong doing which could undermine the whole reputation of the Panorama programme not to mention its validity. Panorama is regarded as one of the leading lights in investigative journalism and to say sorry for a story it ran would be against much of what it stands for. Fergie could take a leaf out of his mate Sam Allardyce’s book, who also refused interivews with the BBC after the same programme accused him of wrongdoing but eventually relented after having proved his point.
The game against Fulham on Sunday may well be the first MOTD interview from Fergie in over five years, although if United lose, it may well be time for Mickey Phelan to face the BBC once more, I just hope that regardless of the result we once again see the United manager on a programme that is still essential viewing for many fans.